Touma's Positive, Pro-Business Message Struck Chord with Voters
By Frank Parlato
Is Andy Touma for real?
Our newly elected city councilman, who received the most votes of anyone running on Election Day and sent Sam Fruscione packing, has vowed to work with anyone and everyone in the public and private sectors for the improvement of Niagara Falls.
"The kind of unity we need requires us to respect each other's ideas," Touma said in an interview at the Pizza Bistro on Third Street. "Even if I don't agree with everything you say, or you don't agree with what I believe, we have to respect each other, we have to listen to each other, we have to try to understand each other. That's the only way to succeed, whether in business, in politics, or anywhere else."
This is a somewhat unusual approach in a city that has long been known for feuding and vendettas, one where elected officials as often as not have used political office not only for their own personal enrichment, but as a hammer with which to beat down their enemies.
"I begin with the concept that I like everybody," he said. "That everybody deserves a fair shot. I try not to hold grudges. I work and live in the city. I have lived here for 25 years."
Touma is a Dean of Students at LaSalle Preparatory School and has worked for the Niagara Falls School District for 19 years. He is also a cousin of attorney Craig Touma, Mayor Paul Dyster's campaign manager.
He has been suspected - including by this publication -of being a potential automatic 'yes' vote for Dyster's various spending sprees, schemes that seem to show a disregard for the taxpayers.
"I am not 'persuaded' by anybody," Touma said in response. "I'll listen to everybody. But I'm my own person. I make my own decisions. The residents of Niagara Falls' concerns and convenience will be my top priority. Not political agendas."
During the campaign, Touma was outspoken in his support of the city handing the lot known as Parcel 4 over to Buffalo developer Mark Hamister for the construction of a mid size, mid-scale hotel.
He wrote in a newspaper opinion piece. "We must begin to fast-track economic development and the jobs that come along with it. Let's not only go find the developers but when they arrive, they must be guaranteed that we will negotiate in good faith and be upfront with all of our concerns."
The majority of Niagara Falls voters agreed, and the Hamister deal, combined with Sam Fruscione's behavior with the media, was seen by some political insiders as leading to the downfall of the formerly popular Fruscione.
Fruscione had originally voted in favor of giving the land, which is now leased by a private parking lot operator for $27,000 a year, to Hamister.
"It's a great plan and we are looking forward to having it built down there," he told newspaper reporters. "I was born in 1966, and all I've ever seen them do is knock the buildings down, so to see something actually being built in my lifetime is big."
But, midway through the campaign, Fruscione decided to go ballistic on media reporters. He would show up at interviews unshaven, wearing sunglasses, and doing his best imitation of Michael Corleone. He accused media personnel of being anti-Italian. Once he threatened TV reporter Mary Alice Demler that he would follow her around with a camera and film her.
By the time of the general election, Fruscione was hammered in the media - including by Demler whose station aired his rabid comments repeatedly. The result was that Fruscione appeared to the average voter as a man devoid of common sense.
That coupled with his incessant fights with those who once supported him, his slash and burn temperament with those who disagreed with him, his utter unwillingness to listen to anyone's advice except a few of his "gumbadis," his decision to work every day and night in his souvenir store and miniature mafia museum on Old Falls St, instead of campaigning, and the fact that he declined the Republican line when it was offered, and, after losing the Democratic primary, ran only on two minor party lines - the Conservative and Independence lines, these combined to see Fruscione come in a distant fourth, far behind the top three vote getters for the three open seats on the council.
In contrast, Touma quietly walked door to door, kept to a positive message, a pro-business stance, acted respectfully to the media - including this publication that was critical of him - and, for that matter, everyone else, and attended every event and gathering he could possibly stick his face into. He came out of nowhere, showed good temperament and he prevailed. Now he now sits in the chair Fruscione once sat in.
Part of Touma's message, it seems, emanates from his Catholic faith, a faith he credits his father and mother for instilling in him. He is lay president and a minister for St John's Parish and a lector who reads the Gospel of Christ from the pulpit.
"I think everyone is God's creature," he said, affirming unabashedly, his commitment to the teachings of Christ.
Referring to the high rate of poverty and the high percentage of people in Niagara Falls who are too weak to support themselves and, instead, need to survive off the forcible taxation of struggling workers, who, in order to support the weak, must do without for their own families, as they pay nearly the highest taxes in the United States, here in Niagara Falls, Touma said, "For those who are needy, I want to see them earn the tools to better themselves, to improve their lives. If you're depending on everybody else, you're miserable. And sometimes, the government enables too much. We have to help, but we have to teach people how to help themselves. To teach them to fish and not just give them a fish, day after day. People have to value themselves. They do that by earning for themselves."
And Touma talks about cutting taxes in a city that is "absolutely overtaxed." He is studying, he said, the possibility that some casino money could be used to reduce taxes.
"It would inspire people, if we could cut taxes, even a little. Even a few percent every year."
Touma admitted a city cannot rise on the back of something as fundamentally predatory as gaming. Yet he is practical.
"Obviously, the people of Niagara Falls should have had the opportunity to have had some input before the Seneca compact was renewed this year," he said. "If I were on the council at the time, I would have demanded to be at the table... But the compact has been renewed. It is the hand we have been dealt. We have to make the best of it and use the (casino) money wisely."
He spoke of the predatory Niagara Falls State Park.
"We don't get anything from the park," he said. "It's disturbing how they use that revenue to fund other parks and not a dime goes back to Niagara Falls."
Touma said he plans to explore ways to get revenue from the park, including the possibility of charging the state park a PILOT fee, like parks are charged in many places. The Niagara Parks Commission in Ontario, for example, pays millions to the city of Niagara Falls Ontario for the use of their land.
Is he for real?
It's too early to tell, but why not give him the benefit of the doubt?
|Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr.||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||
Jan 07, 2014